Opponents hope to hold new law in limbo by forcing public vote on it in November election
OLYMPIA, Wash. Governor Chris Gregoire signed a gay civil rights bill into law Tuesday, though the law may be held in limbo if opponents are successful in forcing a public vote this fall.
Nearly 200 people gave Gregoire, and bill sponsor Representative Ed Murray, a Democrat from Seattle, a standing ovation, as Murray waved the pen that signed the measure that adds “sexual orientation” to a state law that bans discrimination in housing, employment, insurance and credit.
“It’s a joyful, emotional moment,” said Murray, one of four openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature. “It’s a moment to celebrate after a very long struggle.”
After approval in the House, the measure passed the Senate on Jan. 27 on a 25-23 vote, a major victory for gay rights activists who have watched the measure fail in the Legislature for nearly 30 years.
Senator Bill Finkbeiner, a Republican, was the sole Senate Republican to back the measure, a year after it lost by just one vote in the Senate. Two Democrats voted against the measure. One Republican was not present.
After she signed the bill, Gregoire hugged Murray, and the three other Democratic gay lawmakers: Representatives Joe McDermott of Seattle, Jim Moeller of Vancouver and Dave Upthegrove of Des Moines.
Gregoire thanked Murray and the other lawmakers involved in the bill, as well as previous supporters of the measure, including the original sponsor in 1977, former Senator Pete Francis of Seattle, who attended the bill signing ceremony.
“It was their first steps, those courageous steps, that brought us where we are today,” Gregoire said.
The amendment to current law makes Washington the 17th state passing such laws covering gays and lesbians, and the seventh to protect transgender people.
Republicans amended the bill on the House floor to say that it would not modify or change state marriage laws.
The state Supreme Court heard arguments on a case challenging Washington’s ban on gay marriage last year, and a ruling is expected in the coming weeks.
A Senate amendment last week also added a caveat saying the state doesn’t endorse “any specific belief, practice, behavior, or orientation.”
But opponents argue that the law is unnecessary, and imposes one set of moral principles on others.
“We think it’s a bad day for the people in the state of Washington,” said Bob Higley, lobbyist for Faith & Freedom Network, an organization opposed to the measure. “There’s no question this is part of an advancement of an agenda. This is part of the gay pride long-term goals. Acceptance of sexual orientation … that’s part of the agenda toward marriage.”
The law is set to take effect in June, 90 days after the end of the Legislature’s session. But if initiative promoter Tim Eyman is able to get enough signatures by the June 7 deadline for a referendum, the law will be frozen until a November vote on whether it should be overturned.
In addition, Eyman is pushing an initiative that would also remove “sexual orientation” from the law, and prohibit state government from requiring quotas or other preferential treatment for any person or group “based on sexual orientation or sexual preference.”
A referendum refers a law passed by the Legislature to a vote of the people. Initiatives are generally used to propose new laws, but have also been used in recent years to overturn the Legislature’s actions.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 3, 2006